Feb 17 2023

Toast to the Immortal Memory 2023

, Writing , ,

Delivered to the 2023 Robert Burns Society of Annapolis Burns Night Supper, January 23, 2023 by C. David Dent

Good evening, and welcome to the “nap time” portion of this evening’s festivities. And while we all sit here after a fine meal, perhaps some libations, and listen to me drone on about the famous ploughman poet, bear this in mind: 227 years after his death we are still talking about Robert Burns. And while I promise, this talk will be less than 227 years long (although it might not feel like it) I want you to ponder, why am *I* talking about him right now.

By the time Robert Burns was my age he’d been dead for 22 years. (with apologies to Tom Lehrer). I am not a scholar of Robert Burns, except recreationally. I am not a skilled poet, inspired by the words of Burns - although I have composed my share of doggerel verse. I am not a historian - as long as watching documentaries on TV or reading books isn’t counted. And yet, I am as qualified as anyone to speak to the Bard’s brilliance, timeliness, and art. I have delivered 6 of these Immortal Memory “TED talks” in the last 20 years, after all.

Robert Burns was one of many luminary Scotsman who came to prominence during the Scottish Enlightenment. But from his first publication of poetry in 1786, Burns stole the stage. But why? What made Robert Burns the darling of common people, aristocracy, politicians, working class and everything in between?

On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough (1785) [Excerpt]
Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murdering pattle!

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion
An’ fellow-mortal!

Robert Burns, in a couple of stanzas has painted a viewpoint. From above, the Ploughman is apologetic, kindly, even a little ashamed at the damage he’s done. From below, the mouse is terrified, panicked, fearful and exposed wrongfully with no recourse. Each cannot understand the other, although they can empathize and even observe. But they can only project their own emotions and thoughts on the other.

And that’s what is at the center of the appeal. Robert Burns can show us that nobody has the “authentic” point of view of any given situation. For the high-born they may look down on the poor workman, but they do not ‘ken’ the full depth of their lives and can only feel apologetic for the way their actions - wars, taxes, commerce, - may disturb the nests of so lowly creatures. For those below they can only wonder at the mindset of the carless lubering titans who wield national power, and wealth that dwarfs the meager holdings of a laborer or sharecropper, seemingly unaware of the damage they leave in their wake.

Saint Willie’s Prayer (1785) is a perfect example of the lowly speaking to the highest of all:

I bless and praise Thy matchless might,
When thousands Thou has left in night
That I am here before Thy sight,
For gifts and grace
A burning and a shining light
To all this place.

Why should I, or my very birth,
Receive such exaltation?
I who deserved most just damnation
For broken laws,
Six thousand years before my birth,
All on account of Adam’s Original sin.

Willie is humble speaking to the Almighty with reverence and polite praise. But he holds nothing back in his condemnation of those that serve the forces of discord.

Lord, hear my earnest cry and prayer,
Against that Presbytery of Ayr;
Thy strong right hand, Lord, smite them
Upon their heads;
Lord visit them, and do not spare them,
For their misdeeds.

O Lord my God! that glib-tongued Aitken,
My very heart and body are quaking,
To think how we stood sweating, shaking,
Wetting ourselves with dread,
While he, the smooth talking snake,
Was able to win his case.

Lord, in Thy day of vengeance try him,
Lord, visit them who did employ him,
And pass not in Thy mercy by them,
Nor hear their prayer,
But for Thy people's sake destroy them,
Do not spare them.

Many of Burns’s earliest poems, songs and letters reveal his radical views and his empathy for the poor and vulnerable in society. He was without doubt a champion of the oppressed and an enemy of the ruling class and of aristocratic power and privilege. But he holds optimistic that the hearts of those in power will change to help those in need.

But, ultimately, at the heart of his class ethos he holds fair to both sides. Perhaps it was Burns' own social climbing to credit for this. He worked hard to rise from farmer to civil servant, a part-time militia man and father of multiple children. He floated up from lower class to middle class thanks to his strong work ethic and first-hand experience that only by hard work was he ever going to have anything. He leveraged his connections to people of money and power to publish his first collection of poetry even while maintaining a full-time job.

His interests extended to music. It is likely no coincidence that Burns' musical collections also have endeared him to all strata of society, for who doesn't like a rousing song? Especially one that plucks the heartstrings of universal themes. Patriotism, love, regret, longing, and fellowship?

Song - A Bottle And Friend (1787)
Here's a bottle and an honest friend!
What wad ye wish for mair, man?
Wha kens, before his life may end,
What his share may be o' care, man?

There's nane that's blest of human kind,
But the cheerful and the gay, man,
So tak’ a glass and drin’ yur brew
And be content and full man

Then catch the moments as they fly,
And use them as ye ought, man:
Believe me, happiness is shy,
And comes not aye when sought, man.

Burns wrote most of his songs to known tunes, sometimes writing several sets of words to the same air in an endeavour to find the most apt poem for a given melody. Many songs which, it is clear from a variety of evidence, must have been substantially written by Burns he never claimed them as his. The extent of Burns’s work on Scottish songs may probably never be fully known.

It is positively miraculous that Burns was able to enter into the spirit of older folk songs and re-create them, out of an old chorus, or a bit of folk tune. It is this uncanny ability to speak with the great anonymous voice of the Scottish people that explains the special feeling that Burns arouses, feelings that manifest themselves in the “Burns cult.”

Though he lived during the cultural and intellectual tumult known as the Scottish Enlightenment, Burns produced so much fine poetry it shows the strength of his unique genius, that has elevated him to the Scottish national poet as a tribute to his hold on the popular imagination.

But he maintained an objective outlook. He seemed, at some level, to understand that we are all universally in the same boat.

'For a' That and a' That' (1794) [Excerpt]

A Prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that!
But an honest man’s aboon his might –
Guid faith, he mauna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities, an’ a’ that,
The pith o’ Sense an’ pride o’ Worth
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a’ that,
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man the warld o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.

Which brings me back to my initial question. Why me? Why am I qualified to speak for Burns 227 years after his death? The latest in a long line of lowly, common, exalted, heroic, educated, ignorant, plain-spoke and eloquent speakers. Why can I be one to talk about the Bard? Because he would have it no other way.

Please stand and charge your glasses for a toast to the Bard Himself.

Prologue Spoken At The Theatre Of Dumfries (1790) [Excerpt]

For our sincere, tho' haply weak endeavours,
With grateful pride we own your many favours;
And howsoe'er our tongues may ill reveal it,
Believe our glowing bosoms truly feel it.

Care to Comment?

Aug 28 2017

Gen-Con 50 (Post event)

, Entertainment , ,

Season 7 - preview (D&D 5e - Adventurer's League)

Not a bad game. Looks like the new adventures from the Tomb of Anihillation adventure are going to be very 'mission' based. The mission I went on was both challenging and level-appropriate.

Phlan 2-1, 2-2, and 2-3

Very interesting premise. Some of the modules (Phlan 2-3) were poorly thought out or (2-1) poorly written. I did end up having fun, however, mostly due to the caliber of the players in the game with me. Each of the three adventures was a different group, which made it a little mind-bendy to justify, but it was a lot of fun to meet players from all over and try out some really high-powered combos

Engle Harry Potter

Went into this with no idea what it was, but it was very easy to pick up. It was an almost-no-rules RPG/Storytelling framework using pre-established characters (in this case Harry Potter & company). It was fun and we basically rewrote the entire Prisoner of Azkaban novel in our game. Fun, but not something I really wanted to spend a lot of time on. I had a later Engle Firefly game that I chose to blow off.

Bowling for Zombies

I spotted this game in the dealer room and decided to skip it. I had signed up for it because I like the name but when I saw it was a push-your-luck dice rolling game I dropped it from my schedule. Not a huge fan of push-your-luck games or dice-rolling.

Doctor Who:Time of the Daleks

Since I had dropped a couple of events I had some time and Gale Force 9 has put out some of my favorite stuff so far. This is their Doctor Who game. It uses a dice-matching mechanic and is semi-cooperative which can make for a fun game. It plays very much like the TV show with Daleks and lots of planets and monsters tumbling through. We failed to complete the game within an hour, but if we'd had another 30 minutes we probably would have. They seem to be dispensing with huge boards and the playing pieces are big cardboard circles that come and go as the game progresses. It was fun to have mix-and-match companions. And when a regeneration occurs it is just madness all around!.

Giant-Sized Catan Star Trek Federation

The Star-trek themed Catan is a lot of fun with a few minor changes to the familiar game. It was a tense and close-fought game which I lost in the end. I was in the lead for much of the game until the other players decided to pool against me. I ended up losing by a three points 9after I lost my largest army card). The Giant-sized version was great because the foam dice we used were VERY random which always makes for a good game.

Arcane Academy Tournament

Only nine competitors instead of the 16 that they planned for so we played 3 x 3-person games instead of 4 x 4-person. I won my first game (mostly be the 5-point pencils down bonus) but lost the following two games (although not by much). In the end they decided to run 2x 4-person games for the final and sadly I was in 5th place. Which meant I was was not in the lowest 4 (which played for a copy of the game) or the top 4 (who played for a 'prize pack' of AA plus some other stuff). Later I stopped by thei Th3rd World booth and they gave me a bunch of stuff for being a loyal fan, player and...frankly competing. No complaints.

A few Good Men, Women and...things

Another almost-no-rules RPG this one set in a super-hero world. The "old guard" heroes have set up a test for their replacements. Character generation consisted of "What is your name?" and "What is your (single) super power?". Mine was "Granite" (pronounced Grah-NEET) and "Invulnerability". I said I was basically a "rock monster". We had a lot of fun taking the 'tests' that the heroes set out for us which went sideways thanks to the interference of some of the villains in the city. But we prevailed in the end and most of us were named the new heroes of the city. Had a good time with a group who were really good and open improvising players. I am not sure anyone felt like they got stepped on. My only gripe was one of the players, after hearing all of the other players powers and abilities, chose "earth moving powers" which felt sort of vague and undefined. I noted that the GM marked that player's powers as "tunnelling" which felt like he (appropriately) narrowed it to one power. But I also felt he missed an opportunity to keep with the 'elemental' theme that we had going and could have chosen an ice or water based power. But that's a minor quibble.

Firefly Adventures

This is the new skirmish-level tactical miniature game from Gale Force 9 (who make the Firefly Boardgame). This was a real preview since the game is not due for release until October sometime so we were playing with prototype sets. They were so prototype that they were still tweaking the scenarios and rules as we were playing. But the game was fun! It was fast-play. Even with five players (the maximum for the base game) it ran an easy hour. It was quick to learn and they used a clever system for 3-D tactical maps with detailed figures that allowed it all to fit in a single box (with room to spare). I will definately be buying the game when it comes out.

Fiasco "Rock Band 2"

Straight-up Fiasco Madness. The basic premise is a group of aging rockers "get the band back together" for a final tour. Each of us had our own reasons for going back in, and in true Fiasco fashion, things went completely sideways. One of the players had the worst possible miserable fail you can have. Another had the best possible result you can get. My character broke even. The wrap-up stories were both sad, infuriating, and completely bonkers. Great game and great players both!

Nerdlesque presents d20 Burlesque

I was not about to miss this, and once again managed to score front row seats. The ladies (and guys) of D20 put on a great show and I managed to Live blog most of it on Facebook. My phone was dying right towards the end so the last couple of acts didn't get recorded. But it proved an awesome night and I went home in a great mood.

Phlan 2-S (D&D 5e - Adventurer's League)

A sort of 'mini-epic' event where all of the tables work together towards a single goal. Got a chance to play with some of the best players I met on the Phlan 2-(1,2,3) adventures which was a lot of fun. The adventure was kind of 'grindy' but we were being creative in how we dealt with threats and so it didn't feel like we were just pounding on things. Good wrap up game to end on.

Over all Observations

Having a roommate was okay. It alleviated some of the financial burden and I didn't hit him up for parking costs since I was moving around each day and we missed our connection to head back to the room twice of the four days. Riding in together was easy, making the connection to ride back proved to be the hardest part. He wasn't great company but that's not what I was looking for. Might try it again, probably not with him.

The hotel was a little overpriced for what it offered. It was under renovation and their 'breakfast' offering was pathetic. But the rooms were clean and spacious and their staff was very polite and helpful. Might try to get one of the closer hotels next year.

I spent a lot more time in the dealers room than I thought I would. I'd originally planned to spend a couple of hours for the whole thing but I ended up doing it in three different sessions of about 45 minutes each time. It was a big crowded, noisy, busy place and was a little overwhelming. I think this way worked better and I might try to plan it that way next time.

Next time

I didn't pre-book my parking because I could not remember what parking cost nor what I'd save doing it that way, and by the time I went to do it, it was gone. I will not make that mistake again. I will pre-book my parking next year. Also I did my registration at will-call and I am not sure of my reasons now (I think it was the only mail option they had was priority mail which was pricey) but given how long I stood in line on Wednesday when i could have been doing other things, I'll probably have them mail my registation next time.

Given how many comments I got on my Third-Eye Games shirt, I may have to hit up Steve for a free shirt in exchange for distributing some literature to the crowd/game companies in attendance. I got a dozen comments or so on the Motorhead-esque "Live and Win" shirt. I'd also like to see about organizing a bus of folks from this area. There's enough of us that I think it might save a few bucks to travel in a pack and register as a store group. We'll see how that develops.

Care to Comment?

More Articles

  • I am registered for GenCon #50 this year. This is what I am I am registered to play!

    Posted: · Author:

  • I am registered for GenCon #50 this year. This is what I am hoping to play!

    Posted: · Author:

  • Robert Burns was born 251 years ago this coming Tuesday, into a family struggling to make ends meet on a farm near Alloway, Ayrshire, in the lowlands of Scotland.  I doubt his parents ever expected that three centuries later, thousands of folks, the world over would annually be celebrating the birth anniversary of their son. 

    By Mary Elizabeth Dent

    Posted: · Author:

  • I am tired of hearing this question. It is really starting to aggravate me hearing folks whine about how much better the UK versions of TV shows are and how the US "always" manages to screw up UK shows by making their own versions.


    Posted: · Author:

  • Oh God, oh God, we're all going to dine!

     For those who have been waiting to hear it, YES! There will be a Third Annual
    Browncoats Backwoods Bash. It will be held on Saturday, September 18th, from
    11am-??. The location will be the Butternut Shelter at SpringMill State Park,
    just south of Mitchell, IN on SR60. The shelter is just a few hundred yards from
    The Pioneer Village, which will have an exhibit of old-timey crafts and lots of
    19th century style music and dance. Admission to the Park is $5 per carload, but
    the Bash is, of course, FREE!

    Invite YOURSELF to the Facebook Event Page! 

    Learn about the Southern Indiana Browncoats

    Posted: · Author:

  • All over the interwebs the fanboys are wailing about Wonder Woman.  They have changed her costume!  She no longer looks like Lynda Carter's Wonder wman from the 70's. Her classic look has forever vanished from the world and we will never more be able to see her legs in that bathing-suit tunic!Fer the love of Pete!  Get over it!

    Posted: · Author:

  • « Older Posts